What Millennials Want

One of my co-workers recently introduced me to the concept of the "Millennial" generation, specifically pointing out how lucky I am both to have been educated in and to be entering the workforce during a time filled with such a variety of employment opportunities.

Often, however, I feel the exact opposite: burdened by the number of choices Millennials supposedly have, rather than empowered by them.

Psychologists have offered some support to my feelings after running experiments (often in grocery stores) in which they've found that folks given more choices will often refuse or decline to make any choice, whereas those presented with fewer options will more often opt to indulge by trying the sample or even purchasing the target product! (View the study here.)

In college, I waited until almost the final deadline to settle on a major -- in the end choosing psychology, though not with complete conviction. Some of my hesitation stemmed from the all-too-common warning I heard from friends and family members alike that psychology isn't exactly the most "career-focused" choice of study.

Despite my less "occupational" major, I've been fortunate enough to remain mostly employed in my time since graduating. In the past few years, I've changed jobs slightly more frequently than the average person my age, and have even opted to explore entirely different industries.

With the supposed array of choices available today, the hope is that most Millennials would be able to align their interests and talents with a fitting career and devote themselves to pursuing it. However, this hope is now complicated by the fact that many Millennials expect much more from their workplaces than just a title and a paycheck. One of those expectations is the opportunity to work in a socially responsible capacity.

Therefore, when certain members of my generation are unable to land a job in a work environment meeting this particular need, or unable even to find such a workplace to apply to, a certain entrepreneurial subset of them combats this deficiency by driving them to consider starting their own companies.

Adam Weinger, an Emory grad who founded the Atlanta-based company Double the Donation, followed this path. I met Adam while he was visiting my roommate, a good friend of his, in New York City recently. In the few days Adam stayed with us, I learned a little bit about why he started Double the Donation and why he has never regretted it.

Double the Donation hit upon a key area of need by "realizing that nearly billions in funds available for corporate matching go unclaimed every year." While not the first company to do so, Double the Donation, took advantage of a lack of personal attention and support in larger firms which similarly attempted to make it easier for nonprofits to help their donors submit matching gifts to the multitude of employers with these programs. While empowering individual employees to see the impact of their charitable gifts increase, this service more importantly allows non-profits to more easily and efficiently claim more of the "pie" of much-needed gifts, which were being left on the table year after year.

Adam cited early in our first conversation that one of the reasons he chose to start Double the Donation was because he wanted to work for a socially responsible company. Undoubtedly, starting his own company wasn't the only way for Adam to accomplish this, though it did indeed meet his needs and has allowed him to continually refine what it is he wants to "do," both in the sense of how he spends his days, but much larger than that, how his company pivots along its path from inception through its current growth.

Not everyone becomes as excited with the prospect of passing on job offers at traditional institutions and less traditional ones, or even skipping the process of interviewing all together to pursue his own start-up vision. However, for the people who do, their career paths can become reinvigorated with the potential to make fewer trade-offs in terms of the values they seek in a career: learning and personal development, service, charity, power, fame, and so on.

Other companies, like The Resolution Project, founded in 2007 by a group of entrepreneurial friends who met during their days as undergraduates at Harvard, provide opportunities not only to their socially responsible student fellows, but also more broadly to the employees of their partner organizations (including my current employer).

Resolution does the former by serving as a pathway for young, aspiring social entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world today. They operate under the assumption that most young leaders are told that their impact lies far away in the future, deferred until they are older, and correspondingly by the fundamental belief that undergraduates can begin to lead today.

The team at Resolution accomplish their impressive and lofty goals not only through grants provided to student fellows who earn financial support after demonstrating the importance and viability of their socially directed entrepreneurial pursuits, but also by connecting these young leaders to an impressive network of volunteer Guides who share their passion for change in the world.

People often cite Google as the "idyllic workplace" -- it offers world-class chefs and free food, state-of-the-art workspaces where employees can bring their children and even their pets, and opportunities to work on the cutting edge of one of our time's most powerful and influential technologies.

Putting all of that aside for the moment, the other anecdote I've heard about Google, one that really stands out to me, is that the company allows employees to spend a certain portion of their working hours devoted to non-primary responsibility work. That is, they're being encouraged or even mandated to allow their minds to wander and to explore other interests, be they creative, socially responsible, or otherwise intellectually engaging topics.

Anyone who has ever worked with me knows that staying focused on a task for eight straight hours (or two, even) is quite challenging for me. However, I think this trait, which is certainly not unique to my personality and makeup, can be utilized by employers everywhere to generate value not only for the company as a whole, but also for each individual employee. And as a senior leader in my company recently stated -- "a philosophy of taking care of your employees is best for everyone in the end" -- employees pass this happiness and satisfaction on to their customers or clients as well as to the company's stakeholders, whoever they may be.

As this type of practice will catch on outside of Google sooner than it will go away, any employer wishing to recruit and retain the best talent in today's market will need to consider offering compelling and creative benefits beyond the traditional titles, salaries, and 401(k) plans such as the opportunity to volunteer with socially responsible partner organizations.